#HowIBuy – Danielle Cerisano, VP Finance, League

By Steve Woods in #HowIBuy

I was recently on a panel at a sales event with Danielle Cerisano, VP Finance at League, and she had the audience captivated with her detailed and clear description of how she is involved in the buying process.

She was willing to share her insights for this next instalment of Nudge’s #HowIBuy series. For anyone selling anything, the perspective of the head of finance is a crucial one to understand. It is also commonly misunderstood or thought about too late.

Hopefully, Danielle’s perspective on her role in buying will help you avoid any such mistakes:

Danielle, first tell us a bit about League to set context. What do you provide to the market and (roughly) how large of a business are you?

League is revolutionizing the employee benefits space, so employers can offer benefits their team will actually use. Our digital experience works to create a culture of health and wellness at your Company, without the administrative hassles of traditional benefits programs. League unlocks employee benefits to give everyone the power to act every day and live healthier longer lives. We’re post series A and post revenue startup Company.

Finance has a very interesting role in almost every buying process. How do you approach thinking about buying processes and how you are involved?

I like buying. I know that sounds weird coming from finance; I mean, don’t all finance people hate spending money? I like buying because often the tools that we end up saying yes to save us or make us money somewhere else. And THAT I like even better than not spending money.

The way I approach the buying process is by asking a lot of questions! Here we go…Was it budgeted for? Ie; is this is table stakes product that we need in order to run the business? If so is this the best and most cost effective out there? Does it have a tangible or intangible ROI? If it does, do the benefits outweigh the costs at the stage of the business we are at? If you could only have a few products or tools in this particular department, would this be one of them? Ie; if cash gets really tight would we cut this one? (spoiler alert: answering yes to this last one means I don’t think we should buy it even when cash is not tight)

I am involved in the beginning of the process (ie; budgeting time) and the end (ie; decision has been made but I need to approve the additional spend). This is a fundamental mistake most champions make in the buying process. I don’t need or want to be involved in every step along the way, but get me in the know earlier so at the very least I can ask all those annoying questions above before it’s in final stages on XX 31st of the month.

ROI is obviously a critical part of the decision process that you’re involved in. What makes a good vs poor ROI argument in your view? Do you find that most people who come to you with a proposed purchase are experienced at presenting a good case for an ROI?

Shockingly few salespeople come to me with ROI calculations, it would be refreshing to see this done for me. A good ROI argument is one that is simple and straightforward. If it’s complicated or difficult to understand, this is a red flag. Not to be confused with an intangible ROI, you can still have a very simple ROI argument that does not necessarily have numbers attached to it. I urge salespeople to dig in at their own Company if they are finding ROI is holding them up. Maybe the value proposition doesn’t hit the mark quite yet and you can help your product and management teams with valuable prospect feedback.

How do you think about budget? Is the response “we don’t have budget” real, or an excuse? Do you think of a budget as tightly allocated against projects, or a more fluid “bucket” that can be moved around throughout a year?

When a prospect says they do not have budget, in most cases, I believe this is an excuse. Budgets are fluid, and I don’t believe they are the real reason that people do not buy. It’s often something deeper and as the salesperson you should dig. Here are the real reasons why your prospect “does not have budget”:

  1. The product is too expensive for the stage and size of the Company. The product might make sense when they are scaled but for now, the costs do not outweigh the benefits. Keep in touch as they grow, but move on. (**As an aside, if this lead made it to negotiations or even to demo, someone is doing a bad job at qualifying leads. Don’t waste your valuable time here. )
  2. Someone with buying decision power does not understand the ROI and the ultimate value that the product brings.
  3. And the worst of them all, individuals with buying power do understand the product but do not believe there is ROI or value. This could be a serious product market fit issue.

Given the challenges above, how can sales people better prepare their champions to talk to finance? Do the best sales people talk to you directly, or do they arm their champions with the tools and thinking necessary to talk to Finance effectively?

Your champions are your greatest assets, equip them with the tools to talk to Finance. I have no doubt in my mind that when a champion wants to buy a product, it’s going to help them do their job better. My question is how much better? Is it worth the cost? Help your champions speak my language and answer my questions before I ask them. Mark my words, I am going to try to calculate an ROI to justify the purchase, so if this is already done for me then all the more chances that I don’t screw it up by not having all the right information!

What sales assets are valuable to you? What are you looking for in assessing a company via their sales assets?

Finance people are sceptics naturally, it’s our job to be, so I want see that some kind of due diligence has been performed on a new product we considering. This means yes, case studies and testimonials. I understand that not every product is going to fit in the same way at each Company, but I at least want to see that you have a happy customer. Not a great sign if you don’t. And if the Company is too young to provide these references, than I want a ridiculously good price for being an early adopter.

What is different about buying today than in the past?

Sales people have gotten way more creative in the past few years and it’s pretty awesome to see. Videos, an immense amount of research on the Company or myself, and keeping up to date with size, growth stage, and challenges, are all things that have impressed me in cold calls or emails. Do your homework, it goes a long way. I try my best to answer emails from sales people but it’s the lowest on my list of priorities. You’ll have a much better return rate with creativity. And knowing my friend/old colleague/mother from blah blah blah with no other compelling research is a cheap jab…do better.

What is the biggest mis-match between what you need and how salespeople try to sell to your organization?

The biggest mis-match is salespeople not understanding the pain points at our organization. This leads to selling with blanket statements and assumptions that don’t apply to the our Company. You only have a minute or so to ensure you sound credible on a sales call, so be sure to ask the right questions up front or do enough research on the Company before getting on a call.

How do you leverage your own network in understanding the landscape or individual vendor offerings?

I rely heavily on my network to understand what products are out there, what’s working for them, and what is not. Individual networks are an under-utilized tool in the sales process. A sales person once said to me, “I see you are connected with so and so on Linked-In. If you want, give her a call to ask about her experiences with our product.” This was genius. Whether he prepped her or not for my call, my perception was that he didn’t because of the casual and personal nature of the reference. It all felt very natural and helped to develop trust.

Thanks, Danielle, for great insights into how you are involved with buying. Getting the perspective of finance leadership is tremendously valuable!

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder